Sunday, July 19, 2009


If we describe Mersin as a “big port city in the Eastern Mediterranean,” we would be telling the truth, but not the whole truth. If we say, it is a very old city that witnessed the great civilizations of history, still playing host to the rich historical heritage that was left over from them, we would still not be giving a complete description. Or shall we say, it is an area located on the most fertile land in Turkey, Çukurova, an agricultural region where fruits and vegetables burst forth from the earth? A place where sand beaches stretch alongside the emerald blue of the Mediterranean where the sun shines for 300 days a year; a holiday resort where numerous hotels offer most up-to-date amenities and comfort? A city behind which signs of traditional nomadic life still survives on the range of Taurus Mountains and the plateaus? Or shall we describe it as a place where Christianity first spread to Anatolia and a cultural environment where numerous languages, faiths and cultures mingle together? None of these descriptions is sufficient by itself to give a complete picture of Mersin. Maybe if we say Mersin is all of these, we might be able to convey a fairly adequate image. The difficulty that we encounter in describing this geography in East Mediterranean in a simple sentence does not stem from us. It is because of the multi-faceted character of this region.

Maybe it’s better to let the most renowned Mediterranean expert, Fernand Braudel, the famous French historian to give his description. He writes in his voluminous work on the subject, “What is the Mediterranean? A thousand things at a time! Not a landscape but innumerable landscapes. Not a sea but a series of seas. Not a civilization but civilizations piled up one above the other.”

In this city of sun, where the best lemon and orange groves of Turkey are found on its plains, vineyards sprawl up the lower slopes of its mountains, the Yoruks continue the 4000-year old tradition of the peoples of the Mediterranean who have migrated from one place to the other without break by moving up and down the peaks of Taurus mountains with their sheep and goats.

Tourists, who are sunbathing on the golden sands of the beaches under the scorching Mediterranean sun, could see the snowy caps of the Taurus Mountains when they lift their heads and look around. Between the beaches and the mountain peaks, there is a swath of year-round greenery offered by vegetable and fruit gardens and then as the landscape rises towards the mountains, pine trees and meadows. It is a gorgeous landscape stretching from the Mediterranean blue to the snow-white peaks of the Taurus Range.

Mersin city center is one of liveliest places in Turkey. The easygoing rhythm of daily life, so special to the Mediterranean, suddenly picks up speed here. Markets and shopping sections of the city display the hustle and bustle of all the big cities at anytime of the day.

Mersin is a fast-growing city where commerce, agriculture and tourism industries have converged. It is also a port city. The agricultural produce coming from the fertile Çukurova and industrial products manufactured in the region are exported through the port of Mersin. Imports needed for both industry and agriculture are also unloaded here.

Useful Information for Mersin

Tourism Information Telephone: (0324) 237 26 67

Mersin Museum:
Atatürk St. Kültür Merkezi (Cultural Center Telephone: (0324) 231 96 18
Open Everyday between 08.30 - 12.00 / 13.00 – 17.00 except for Mondays.
The museum which was set up in 1978 at a small section of the old Community Center (Halkevi) has grown bigger with the restoration of the building in 1991 when it was turned into a Cultural Center.
The objects on display at the Museum which also has an Ethnography Section include the finds excavated at Yumuktepe and Gözlükule, the earliest human settlements in Anatolia dating back to Calcolithic Age.
Atatürk House and Museum Telephone: (0324) 714 10 19 Open everyday except Mondays between 08.30 - 12.00 / 13.00 – 17.00.
State Museum of Art and Sculpture:
Inside the Atatürk Park Telephone: (0324) 231 56 21
This 19th Century building which was used as a residence and a hotel was later restored and refurbished as an attractive gallery. The building is worth seeing as much as the objects of art on display inside.

Mediterranean is not as docile as it seems
The Mediterranean was suitable for the development of maritime operations. And it developed in this direction throughout the history. However, this “suitability” does not necessarily mean that it was a sea of serenity. It is known since the Antiquity that the Mediterranean can be full of surprises any time.

In the 7th Century B.C. Hesiodos, one of the chroniclers of the Antiquity wrote in his “Works and Days” addressing his brother who was a seafarer and a farmer at the same time:
“Work the soil when the winter comes instead of going out to the sea where winds blowing from every direction turns its waters to the color of wine. Haul your vessel onto the shore and surround it with rocks … fold your sails heedfully, hang your rudder above the fireplace and wait for the season for going out to the sea to come.”

Famous Genovese Admiral Andrea Doria did not trust the Mediterranean either. He had this to say about it:
“There are three havens in the Mediterranean: Carthage, June and July!”

A Short Journey through a Long History

In Mersin, the adventure of human beings commences at the very early ages of history. Çukurova, which was one of the most fertile and naturally irrigated lands in the Mediterranean basin, hosted the first human settlers who learned how to cultivate the soil. Another advantage that this vast plain offered to its settlers was the forest that sprung up on its edge. In this area, which was called Cilicia during the Antiquity, first human settlements date back to the Neolithic Age. The excavations at the tumulli called Gözlükule and Yumuktepe uncovered valuable findings that shed light not only on the history of the region but the history of mankind in general.

While still unknown to the people living in the Aegean islands, Greece and Europe during 3000 B.C., the inhabitants of this area found out that adding tin to molten copper forms a strong and durable alloy called bronze and that they could manufacture weapons, agricultural tools, household utensils and other instruments with this metal. Bronze ushered in a new era in human history during which the society developed rudimentary stages of small industry passing into a higher level of production instead of relying exclusively on agriculture. This new mode of production blazed the trail for a new mode of social organization. Human societies were now moving out of closed agricultural communities, beginning to urbanize and starting trade between different regions.

In the early phases of human history, it took long years for a particular development in one area to spread into other communities. Inter-regional trade helped speed up spreading culture. Within this context, it was unthinkable that expeditions of trade and conquest would not pass through the fertile lands of Cilicia. Furthermore, ports in the region provided easy access.

The province of Mersin which today covers the ancient region of Cilicia possesses the marks of this long history and different cultures hosted by this land.

We shall make short journeys again in this ancient history as we stop by ruins and museums in the area.

Where Does the Name Cilicia Come From?

Strabon, the geographer from Amasya who lived during the 1st Century B.C. has defined the borders of Cilicia as stretching from Alanya (Caracesium) to Viranşehir / Mersin (Soloi / Pompeipolis) which constituted the Mountainous Cilicia (Tracheia) and from Mersin to the bay of Iskenderun (Alexandria Kat’isson) which was named Cilicia on the plain (Pedias). The Taurus Range of mountains that separated the area from interior part of Anatolia constituted the northern border.

We come across the name Cilicia for the first time in Hittite inscriptions dating back to 16th Century B.C. Adaniya referred to Cilicia on the plain and Chalaka was used to describe mountainous Cilicia. The area is referred to as Kedi (or Kode) in the Egyptian inscription of 15th Century B.C. Whereas the Assyrians called it Cihalakka (Hilakku) in the 8th Century B.C.

According to famous historian Herodotus, the name Cilicia goes back to Phoenician Hero Cilix. Cilix who was the son of Phoenician King Agenor, came to this area with his brothers searching for their sister Europa who was abducted by Zeus. According to Herodotus, when Cilix loses his hope to find Europe he settled here and gave the region his name.

Mersin City Center

Mersin which borders on Antalya, the most attractive tourism center of Turkey and the Mediterranean in the west and Adana which is a productive agricultural and industrial region, in the east has Mediterranean stretching all along its southern border. In the north, Taurus Mountain Range separates the province from the Anatolian hinterland.

Mersin is one of the major ports of the Mediterranean and a center of maritime trade as it has always been since the earliest periods of history.

A Landmark of Mersin : The Skyscraper

The 52-floor skyscraper still holds the title of “Tallest Building of Turkey.” One part of it is a hotel. The landmark building, which has metropolitan shopping centers around it, is a symbol of modern times in Mersin. There are conference rooms and offices of various businesses in the building.

You just have to take the elevator to the 52nd floor to have a bird’s view of Mersin.

The History of Mersin as a city

Mersin has a peculiar history of its own regarding urbanization in the whole region of Cilicia, settlements both in the mountains and flatlands. It is also different from the general characteristics of urbanization in Anatolia.

Many towns in Anatolia show a remarkable continuity throughout the history. Tarsus, one of the main towns to the east of Mersin city center and Silifke a major settlement to the west both have an urban history running through scores of centuries without a break. For example, the known history of Tarsus dates back to 7000 years and the city has been carrying the same name for the last 2000 years.

There is no such continuity of urban settlement in Mersin. Famous 17th Century Ottoman traveler Evliya Chelebi in his Seyahatname (Travelogue) mentions a certain village with about 70 households in the area called Mersinoglu.

We know that there were ancient cities in the geographical area where Mersin is located now. But there is no indication that there was a big city here during the Middle Ages or most part of the Ottoman history.

Mersin seems to have appeared as a city during the mid 19th Century. This is a period when important changes have taken place in this particular area. The governor of Egypt, Mehmet Ali Pasha of Kavala, rebelled against the Ottoman rule and took this region under his domination. He brought agricultural workers from Syria and Egypt and launched a campaign to restructure the agriculture of the area. With this campaign cultivation of sugar canes and cotton intensified in Mersin and surrounding regions.

Mersin showed a speedy development after the deregulation of trade between the Ottoman Empire and West European countries with the trade agreement of 1838 and the modernization movement of Tanzimat.

Tarsus, which had served as the main port of the Çukurova region in the past, was clogged with alluvia brought down by the rivers. Mersin was now taking over as the main port in the region.

In this way, Mersin’s progress from a small village to become a major port began. With commercial activity picking up around Iskele, (The Quay) population movements tended to concentrate towards this area.

Development was continuing fast and a big open market, with the participation of local and foreign traders, was organized every Friday on the Mersin quay in 1857. The commodities traded at this market were not restricted to agricultural produce only. It was the beginning of a full-fledged commercial sector and the nucleus of a new city.
From this point on Mersin began to take on the features of a commercial port city. A lot of people coming from different ethnic roots and different faiths started living here, a myriad of different languages were spoken on the streets. In 1886 there were consulates of 12 foreign countries functioning in Mersin.

Life in the Antiquity was completely different in Mersin where for a long period of time there was no urbanization.

The hill on which the State Opera House and the Mersin Museum are standing today is thought to be the location of the antique city of Zephyrion. The oldest human settlement in Cilicia on the plain, Yumuktepe is only few kilometers north of here.

The Port that Re-transformed Mersin and shaped its Future

The port that provided the dynamics of turning Mersin into a city by the mid-1800s has an importance in our day not only for Mersin and Çukurova but also for a larger geographical area. It is a candidate to become one of the largest ports in the Middle East depending on economic and political developments in the world.

The Free Trade Area and the port that was privatized in 2005 point to developments that will make Mersin a significant center for the region even beyond the borders of Turkey.

Heritage of the Past

You do not need to travel long distances to see the oldest signs of human presence in Mersin, which was settled by mankind during the earliest periods of history. At the Yumuktepe (Soguksutepe) tumulus located in the Demirtaş neighborhood, one of the oldest sections of the city, the signs of human settlement date back as far as the Neolithic Age.

You come across quite a number 19th Century structures and monuments like mosques, churches, hamams (public baths) and fountains in the old neighborhoods of the city.


Perhaps the Neolithic Age was the biggest leap forward in the history of humanity which, until then eked out a subsistence level living by hunting and gathering techniques. For hundreds of thousands of years human beings who had been finding shelter in the caves and living out on whatever the nature gave them, were now trying to augment what the nature was offering them by developing new tools. In other words, they were taking the first steps from reconciliation with nature in the direction of changing it.

Yumuktepe is one of the witnesses of this important turning point in the history of humanity. It possesses layers of settlements beginning with the Early Stone Age until the Islamic Civilizations of the Middle Ages.

The findings obtained from the archeological excavations between 1937 and 1940 and reports detailing this research were destroyed when the British Archeological Institute in Liverpool was bombed during World War II. Prof. John Garstan of Liverpool University who led the excavations at Yumuktepe gathered documents from Chicago University’s Oriental Institute and people who were privately in possession of such material and restarted the dig in 1947 and 1948.

After a long break following these first excavations, a team of Turkish and Italian archeologists resumed the work at Yumuktepe in 1993.

To see the objects evidencing the fact that humanity passed from the period of making tools from pure copper that is found very rarely in the nature to the phase of developing a technology to process abundant copper oxides to produce new metals in this part of the world, one has to go to the Mersin Museum.

But, let us first mention the places worth seeing around.


There is very little information about this ancient city considered the first urban settlement in Mersin. The walls, marble columns and different structural elements uncovered during the construction of the present Cultural Center and Health Department buildings in the Çavuşlu neighborhood are the only remnants of the ancient city of Zephyrium that were able to survive until today. It is believed that further archeological work to be carried out on this tumulus would reveal important information that would shed light on the history of Mersin, Cilicia and the history of civilization in general.

Anchiale (Black Wall)

Historian and geographer Strabon also mentions the ruins found east of the city. Strabon writes that the Assyrian King Sardanapal built these walls together with the city of Tarsus in a single day. He also mentions King Sardanapal’s tomb, a lion’s statute and the inscription of the city, but all these have not been found yet. The remnants of aqueducts, parts of building structures, a Roman bath can also be seen around the tumulus, but unfortunately these bits and pieces do not tell much to the eyes of the amateur visitor.

Museum of Mersin

There are three exhibition rooms of the museum at the city center where archeological and ethnographical objects are on display. The most important archeological objects are the finds at excavations at Yumuktepe and Gözlükule tumuli. In addition to these, artifacts from the Hittite, Hellenistic and Roman civilizations can also be seen.

The exhibition room in the upper floor is allocated to ethnographic works. Works sculptured from large rocks are placed in the courtyard.

The museum is open every day except Mondays between 08:30 to 17:00. On the first day of religious holidays, the museum is closed for half a day.

Telephone : (0324) 231 9618

Monumental Structures

Almost all the monumental structures within city limits come from the 19th Century. Majority of these buildings that are found in the old quarters of the city belong to Turkish-Islamic period.

The Fountain of Bezm-i Alem Valide Sultan

Bezm-i Alem Valide Sultan was the mother of the 19th Century Ottoman ruler Sultan Abdulmecid. She was considered the patron of Mersin because she played an important role in the development of the city. The fountain is the earliest Islamic structure in Mersin. The inscription on the fountain says that it was built by Sultan Abdulaziz in 1861 in the memory of Bezm-i Alem. It is located on the corner of the Eski Cami (Old Mosque). With its triangular frontispiece and piers it displays local architectural characteristics.

Old Mosque (Eski Cami)

The mosque is again dedicated to Bezm-i Alem Valide Sultan, the protector of Mersin. The building was constructed in 1870. It is a rectangular, wooden, gable roofed structure with a single minaret. The mosque was renovated in 1901.

Mufti Mosque

This mosque was built by Mufti Emin Efendi in 1884 next to the stream and the bridge over it having the same name as the mosque: Mufti. The building was also used as a madrasa, religious school. The mosque has Baroque style ornamentation. Its altar carries the tugra, or the seal of the Ottoman sultan.

The Avniye Mosque

Because its minaret is wooden, this mosque was also known as “Wooden Mosque.” It has been built in 1898.

There are two more mosques that would attract your attention as you go on a city tour in Mersin. But these mosques are not historical; they are the structures of more modern times.

The Ulu Mosque (Grand Mosque)

This is a new mosque. The location was called the Customs Square in the old days. Now it is known as Ulu Çarşı. There was an old mosque built in 1898 called the Yeni Cami (New Mosque) at this spot. This mosque was torn down and the new structure was built on the same place. About 2000 worshippers can pray at the same time in the mosque which is decorated with Kütahya tiles.

The Mosque of Hazreti Mikdat (Mugdat)

This is the second biggest mosque built during the republican period in Turkey after the Kocatepe Mosque in Ankara. The mosque, which holds 10,000 worshippers at a time, has six minarets with three balconies each. It is reminiscent of Ottoman mosque complexes (külliye) with its conference room, library, public kitchen, hostel and health center.

The Italian Catholic Cathedral

The construction of the cathedral was begun in 1853 when the authorities gave permission to the Catholic merchants and Levantines who settled in Mersin after the development of maritime trade in the city. The church, which is run by Capuchin friars, is located on the Uray Street. The construction of the complex with its auxiliary sections and the clock tower was only completed in 1991. The Italian Catholic Cathedral is open to worship.

The Arab Orthodox Church

This is the oldest church still functioning in Mersin. It was built in 1878 on the street now named after Atatürk. It is open to worshippers.

Public Baths

Public baths are inevitable structures of a port city. This is the result of a human need that existed since the antique times. The public baths of Hadra at the Kiremithane neighborhood (1903), the Küçük Hamam (Small Bath) near the Hospital Street and the Büyük Hamam (Big Bath) in the marketplace at the city center were all built during the period when Mersin was developing as a port city in the 19th Century. None of these public baths are now functional.

The Atatürk House

This is one of the most beautiful buildings in Mersin. It was built in 1897 for the German Consul who married a lady from Mersin as his residence. Later, the building was used as a school. In 1976 the building was donated to public ownership by its owners and it was named The Atatürk House because the founder of modern, Turkey Kemal Atatürk stayed here as a guest for two weeks with his wife in 1925.

Work for renovating the building began in 1980 and in 1992 it was inaugurated as a museum.

On the ground floor of the house, which also has a beautiful garden, photographs and documents are exhibited. On the second floor there are bedrooms and a sitting room. Some personal effects of Atatürk are also on display on the second floor.

Two Faces of Mersin

you walk around the old neighborhoods and marketplaces of Mersin, you feel like you are in a time warp. The buildings and even the traditional human relations make you think that you have gone 50 or 100 years back in time. After a very short walk, you find yourself in the modern part of the city.

Walking on foot in the marketplace is a very pleasurable experience. It is an extremely colorful place. There are a lot of local flavors to taste and try. For example, licorice sherbet from the sellers on the street, spice shops, local sweet cezeriye and delicious kebab wraps called tantuni are all there for you to try.

Right next to them shops selling plastic wares and a modern store across from a historical Mersin house are the sights you will see.

The seashore reflects the modern face of the city. There is a two-lane road stretching along the coastline with wide pedestrian sidewalks.

One of the most enjoyable spots on the coast is the fishermen’s shelter. Fishing boats moored at the quay have been transformed into restaurants on the sea and they serve tasty meals. You may feel as a fisherman here.

Urbanization and Houses of Mersin

As we have mentioned before, Mersin is a city founded in the 19th Century. In a country like Turkey where there are many historical cities, 100 or 150 years might seem unimportant, although there are states in the world, the history of which hardly go back to 150 years. But, let us talk about the Mersin houses. Since the city was founded at a relatively late date, it is perhaps the most organized Ottoman town.

The houses and their distribution among the neighborhoods reflect the social and professional differences between their owners. As a port city growing fast, people from different origins came and settled in Mersin in growing numbers. The result was a multi-cultural community.

At the time when the city was being built, municipal rules of the Ottomans required that in order to be registered as a neighborhood, the smallest administrative unit in a city, it should have a primary school, a mosque and a police station, as well as a sewage system and well-arranged roads. There were also rules that the buildings should observe.

Because Mersin was founded and developed according to these rules, it is different than the other Anatolian towns. The city developed along two axes, one of them running from east to west and the other from the south to the north towards the plateaus and mountains.

The neighborhood called by the name of the mosque Cami-i Serif formed the center of the city.

The style of traditional Turkish houses consisted of wooden family quarters built on a ground floor made of stone. The upper floor usually had an oriel overhanging the street. All the houses used to have gardens. The houses of Mersin generally followed this pattern. However, very few of these traditional houses were able to survive until modern times.

However, the houses in the city center belonging to merchants were different. Merchants coming from the Middle East or Europe were constructing buildings that reflected the architectural characteristics of their homelands. Such rich merchants were usually hiring foreign architects to construct their mansions. These buildings represented the modernity concept of the 19th Century. They were usually two-story stone buildings. The ground floors were designed to have shops and storage facilities alongside the entrance to the house. These shops and storage rooms had separate doors opening to the street for moving goods easily.

The interior arrangement of these houses consisted of four or five rooms opening to a hallway running along the width or the length of the building. Between the rooms there was no passage, all of them opened to the hallway. At each end of the hallway there were oriel windows jutting out into the street.

These buildings had bathrooms, toilets and kitchens on both floors. However, they did not have built-in wardrobes in the rooms, a traditional feature of the Turkish houses.

The shops and storage rooms on the ground floor were either rented out or used by the owner of the house for his commercial needs.

The building which we call the Atatürk House today, has a different architectural design. This building is also known as the Christmann House. It originally belonged to the Greek merchant family of Mavromati. Christmann was the German Consul in Mersin who married Mavromati’s daughter.

Another type of rich family mansion consisted of an open courtyard around which the building rose. It was probably an architectural style inspired by the Ottoman building patterns.

Castles Around Mersin

As we tour the area we shall frequently come across castles built during the Middle Ages and the Byzantine period. Some of them are in or close to Mersin. For example, the castle of Tirmil (Tumil, Gotbes) is within the borders of the city, to the east of the Eastern Wholesale Vegetable Market.

The other castles around Mersin are called Belenkeşlik, Çandır (Paparayn), Dümbelek, Evciler, Gözne, Hebilli, Hisar (Ziyarettepe), Kale, and Kalegediği. Some of the castles are relatively in good condition but little is left to our day from the others.

West of Mersin

coastline running west from Mersin is the area where the tourism industry is concentrated and developed. This coastline stretches up to the border of Antalya province with wide sand beaches, plains, river deltas and from time to time steep, rocky cliffs at places where the Taurus Mountains hit the shore at right angles.

The flatlands on this coastline are full of banana, orange and citrus gardens. Some of these gardens have been transformed into tourist facilities lately. Developing tourism industry naturally affects the lifestyle of the local people. As tourism-oriented activities concentrating on the coast spread towards the plateaus, the indigenous culture of the people living on high ground opens up to tourism and in turn gets affected by tourism itself.

The Mediterranean is used to population movements historically. This lifestyle has been going on for thousands of years in this part of the world. That is why, the people living in the eastern edge of the Mediterranean on Anatolian soil did not have any difficulty in orienting themselves towards this kind of new lifestyle brought to them by new initiatives in tourism industry. These people who have been migrating from place to place throughout history did not find anything odd in adapting themselves to tourists; the migrating people of modern times!

Mersin is growing fast towards the west. Buildings that were built as summer residences originally are now inside city limits.

Towards Erdemli

This area is originally the vegetable and fruit granary of Mersin. Greenhouse cultivation is extremely developed. There are no big industrial plants in the area.

With the development of tourism in the area, accommodation provided in the beginning by small boarding houses now continues by big and quality-service offering hotels.

As we move inland from the coastline, orange and lemon groves, banana gardens and greenhouses growing vegetables increase. Parts of the area closer to Mersin were first developed by building summerhouses. But with the city spreading so fast, the neighborhoods here have become part of Mersin where people live all year round.

Hotels begin rising at Mezitli. Mezitli has become part of the city center, one of the neighborhoods within city limits.


2 kilometers inland from Mezitli you come across the ruins of antique city Pompeipolis at Viranşehir. This is an impressive place among 20-story apartment blocks surrounding it. The columned road is enough to demonstrate the richness and architectural success of this antique city. Pompeipolis was an important Roman city before it was flattened by an earthquake in the 6th Century. The main 10-meter wide thoroughfare of the city that runs for 450 meters down to the sea is thought to be built during the 2nd or 3rd Centuries. Once there were 200 columns that embellished this road. Only 40 of them have been found so far. There are human and animal figures on the columns.

Excavation work is still continuing shedding more light on the history of this antique city. Before Pompeipolis, there was a city called Soloi in this location. Soloi got its name from the sun. It was a port enriched by trading with Egypt and Cyprus. It was quite developed in philosophy and science at the time.

Roman general Pompeius came to Cilicia with his army to put an end to the domination of pirates in the region. He allowed some of pirates worthy of his mercy to settle in Soloi. He developed the city and gave his name to it. The city was to be called Pompeipolis from that point on. During the Byzantine period, Pompeipolis continued to be an important center and became a diocese with a bishop.

But in the year 527 a devastating earthquake leveled the city. All the efforts of the city to recover from the disaster were in vain. It became the target of attacks by Sasanites and Moslem Arabs. It is thought that the inhabitants of the Pompeipolis evacuated the city a while later.

Findings at Pompeipolis excavations are exhibited at the Mersin Museum.

Cilicia, Pirates and Looters in the Mediterranean

The Mediterranean is the place where maritime trade flourished. Boat building also showed a slow by stable improvement. Vessels were not instrumental in exchanging goods. People traveled by them too. Merchants took their goods with them in the ships to sell in overseas lands and brought back other commodities. Human experiences, knowledge and art were also transported from place to place on board these ships. Naturally, the cargos of these vessels did not only consist of “good” things. Contagious diseases, viruses unknown to people in those overseas lands against which they did not have an immunity system, also came and went on board these ships.

But the most decisive aspect of all this movement in the Mediterranean was trade and the richness it brought to people. And the pirates and the looters who wanted to grab their share of this wealth.

The Civilization That Developed in the Mediterranean

Let us go on a journey in the old times and find out the source of piracy and see how they were able to hold the seas under their sway despite the powerful empires that ruled the land. And let us mention another threat to the authority of the rulers in the Mediterranean basin. These were the mountain tribes known as looters. These tribes living on the peaks of Taurus Mountains were descending on flatlands pillaging the cities that have grown rich on agriculture and trading.

The Mediterranean entered history as a waterway. In the Antiquity, the variety of fish in the Mediterranean was quite rich. But despite the richness of variety, the amount of fish was not great in numbers. The Mediterranean did not have the kind of fish that move in large schools.

In our day, the situation is graver. Nino Caffiero, an expert on sea life, says, “A day will come when fishing in the Mediterranean will be prohibited and this sea will be turned into a zoological park for the protection and preservation of species living in it.”

If there is no concerted international initiative taken, it won’t be long before this prediction becomes a reality.

The Mediterranean was never a sea of abundance that fed the people living around it.

But it offered other possibilities to them. It gave them the water surface as a means of transportation. Maritime transportation has always been the cheapest way of moving goods and people. This cheap transportation helped develop trade. Trade in turn brought wealth. Port cities were founded and developed. A city that lost its port because of earthquakes or alluvial clogging was departing from the scene of history. The Mediterranean had such a decisive effect on the lives of people living around it. The reason for the fight for domination among the people in the Mediterranean region was not for land but for the sea. In order to control the maritime commerce, armies were conquering land.

As you will find the examples in this book, the inhabitants of port cities were evacuating their homes and moving inland to more secure areas in fear of attacks by the pirates.

The Mediterranean is still offering richness to the peoples living around it. The diminishing importance of sea trade caused by giant transport planes, developed land routes and railways is now balanced with the fact that Mediterranean became one of the most favored tourist destinations of the world.

Wealth on the Seas and Piracy

As a “waterway” through which trade developed, the Mediterranean helped develop side industries such as shipbuilding and working wood. Ships sailing from port to port in many countries also affected agriculture. The most important commercial goods of the trade in the Mediterranean were olives, olive oil, grapes and wine.

Coastal cities were not indulging only in trading the goods they were producing. The produce of inland regions, primarily such as wheat and grains were also exchanged through maritime commerce.

The fact that maritime commerce developed first in the Mediterranean is closely related with the characteristics of its coasts. Vessels made in the early stages of history were quite simple and they were not suitable for riding the high seas. So they sailed close to the coast. There was a need for shelter whenever a storm broke out. The coasts of Mediterranean and especially the coastline of Anatolian peninsula are dotted with innumerable coves and bays that would provide shelter for the ships. Furthermore, there were a great number of cities and towns on the coast, which meant an increase in the commercial turnover. At every port\ merchants could buy and sell. Commodities exchanged through many hands meant higher profits.

Piracy in a sea where such wealth was circulating did pay off well indeed. Meanwhile squabbling between various empires, kingdoms and principalities for domination worked in the interests of the pirates. Those holding on to power were supporting the pirates operating on their rival’s territory and cooperating with them. Of course, the pirates had ports where they could sell their booty.

Piracy developed and gained power so much that in the end not only the seaways of the Mediterranean but a lot of towns around the sea went under the domination of the pirates.

Mankind began sea faring in the second half of the 3rd millennium B.C. and it developed oars and sails in the 2nd millennium B.C. Before that time sea was an obstacle for moving from place to place. With mankind able to sail now, the sea turned into a medium of transportation.

Pirates and Slave Trade

Pirates were not only the enemies of ships of trade and rich commercial ports on the sea shore, they were also preying on the poor peasants.

The advent of oars increased the need for human power on board the ships. There were poor people who volunteered for the job because they did not have any other means of livelihood. Later on, prisoners were condemned to “galleys” a term still existing in the judicial jargon. But the main source of this human power was the galley slaves. Because of the very harsh conditions they were forced to live in, these slaves did not live long years. So there was a constant need for new slaves to row in the vessels. Slave trade was one of the most profitable practices in those years. Pirates posing as traders would go on the shore and capture poor peasants whom they sold as slaves later or made them work on their own ships. Young women were also considered “valuable commodity.”

A Mode of Trade Created by Fear of Pirates

Because of these insecure conditions, people created a new method of trading during the earliest stages of maritime commerce, which enabled exchange of goods without the buyer and seller meeting face-to-face.

According to this mode of trade, the merchant ship would unload its goods to be sold on the shore, light a fire and sail back to a safe distance so that the customers are not scared. The people on the shore would come and check the goods, take whatever they like or need and leave their own commodities, which they thought to be of equal commercial value to the goods they have taken. Then the merchant ship would come ashore to take what the people have left for them. In this way buyers and sellers were never coming in touch personally. The rule was, of course, bartered goods should be matching in value so that the trade would continue.

Bartering has been practiced since very old times. It is still a method of trading. However, it originated from the fear of slave-grabbing pirates.

The Beginning of the End of Piracy

Like all over the Mediterranean, in Cilicia too, pirates hold the region under their yoke. After the Roman Empire dominated the area, it was unable to follow the policies of Seleucos and pirates and robbers proliferated and strengthened in the region.

Mercenary sailors in the navy lost their jobs; exports of timber, the main source of revenue in Cilicia, diminished drastically and the people were impoverished significantly. Those who could not make a living naturally joined the pirates.

The Roman Senate took the first serious step against this problem in 102 B.C. by deciding to send Praetor Antonius to the area. Piracy which was taken partly under control during this period, increased again in 92 A.D. under the governorship of Sulla. The pirates were supported by Mithridates, the King of Pontos. Heavy taxes levied on people by Governor Sulla also made people defect to the pirates in the sea and robbers on the mountains. The people hated the rulers because of these oppressive policies. This feeling of dissent led to a change in the reputation of pirates and robbers. They were no longer seen as thieves but revered folk heroes.

Finally, the Roman Senate sent General Pompeius in 67 B.C. to Cilicia. Pompeius carried out some economic reforms in addition to using force to solve the problem of piracy.

By the strengthening of the Roman rule in the region, Cilicia was reorganized as a Roman province. Local people who were indulging in piracy or leading a nomadic life were settled in towns. The city which was originally called Soloi was renamed Pompeipolis and developed as a new settlement. Pirates became citizens with proper jobs and houses. They married and had children. In this way piracy in the Mediterranean came to an end.

From Mezitli to Erdemli

The road between Mezitli to Erdemli is 23 kilometers. All along the road greenhouses where vegetables are cultivated run as far as the eye can see. Summerhouses also line up along the road. Tourism is also developing in the area with new and quality service providing hotels. This region where the summer season lasts longest in Turkey is preparing to play an important role in the future of tourism.

Vegetable and fruit gardens decrease as the land rises towards the Taurus Mountains. Grain fields take their place at the plateaus on high ground. As the landscape rises higher, pine forests begin reaching the peaks of the mountain range.

West of Erdemli, there is a settlement called Limonluk. When you drive 500 meters inland from the coastal road, you arrive at the ruins of the antique city of Limos where the remnants of its castle can be seen.

The Mersin Cuisine
The Richness of Nature and Culture

Mersin possesses the fish and other products of the sea that Mediterranean provides. On the other hand, it has a wide variety of agricultural produce grown in different environmental and climatic conditions offered by the plains, plateaus and mountains. This rich variety of flora and fauna naturally has led to a remarkable kitchen tradition.

Here too, like elsewhere in the Mediterranean, people moving place to place throughout the history, ships transporting different cultures from port to port have contributed to the culinary richness in addition to the variety of foodstuffs coming from land and sea. Food tradition also shows differences at human settlements as you go up to the heights of Taurus Mountains from the seashore.

In Mersin and surrounding tourism centers the specialties of the local kitchen can be found. The basis of the local kitchen consists of a great variety of kebabs. Some of these are even eaten during the breakfast or just as snacks between meals. The most widespread one is the tantuni that could be bought from street vendors. It is made of small pieces of steak.

It is not possible to list all kinds different kebabs that you can savor in the region. But there are characteristics special to Mersin of the kebab tradition that is common to the Çukurova region and southeast Turkey.

A special kind of meatballs called içli köfte which is baked in oven or fried elsewhere is cooked by boiling here which makes it easier to digest.

When it comes to seafood, giant prawns called “jumbos,” and grouper, the most favored fish of eastern Mediterranean, porgy, leerfish, brown meager, octopus and calamari are highly recommended.

There are also tastes exclusively special to Mersin. “Zahter” is one of them. It consists of roasted and powdered chickpeas, watermelon and sesame seeds with the addition of the local spice “zahter” which is belongs to the family of thyme. Bread freshly out of the oven is opened and soaked with virgin olive oil, then this mixture is spread in it. People who like to try new tastes should definitely try this. Locals eat this at breakfast.

The most popular soft drink is called şalgam suyu, and it is extracted from turnips. In the summer licorice sherbet is refreshing drink. After the meals people drink what they call Tarsusi coffee. It is really what we call Turkish coffee but it the difference is that it is served in tea glasses.

There are also a wide variety of local sweet desserts. But the one that is special to this area is cezeriye, which is made of sweet carrots. It is found everywhere. Künefe, a local version of kadayif, made with unripened cheese somewhat similar to mozzarella is also very famous.

Recently, local chefs concocted a new dessert that is served at the end of raki meals. It is made of avocados, a newcomer among Mersin’s fruit produce, crushed sesame seeds, powdered chestnuts and honey. This sweet is a candidate for becoming the most popular dessert on Mersin’s dinner tables.

The tastiest dishes of the local cuisine are generally hot and spicy. As the tourism industry developed, the waiters have learned to warn the patrons before serving these dishes. But we decided to draw your attention anyway.

A Source of Energy: Cezeriye

It seems that there is a neck-to-neck competition in Mersin between the cezeriye and tantuni vendors. It is hard to decide which of the two beats the other in numbers. At every step there is a shop selling either of the two delicacies.

The recipe for cezeriye, which is rich in A, and B vitamins goes like this:

Carrots are cleaned and cooked in big boilers. (For selling purposes the usual measure is 50 kilos of sugar to 100 kilos of carrots. Then 250 grams of citric acid crystals are added. Walnuts, chestnuts or pistachios are mixed with the cooked carrots. Then the thick paste is cut either by hand or by the machines. Pieces of cezeriye are sprinkled with coconut powder so that they don’t stick to each other. If you want to make cezeriye at home, cut half a kilo of carrots in small cubes, add 2 glasses of sugar and water just to wet the sugar and cook it until the mixture gets soft. Mash the mixture with a wooden spoon and make it into a puree. When it becomes a thick paste take it from the fire. If the paste sticks to your finger then it is done. Separate 1.5 of five full glasses of very coarsely ground chestnuts. Add 3.5 glasses to the mixture and squeeze it firmly in a deep glass vessel. Sprinkle the rest of the chestnuts on the mixture and leave it to cool off. When it cools off, cut it into half a centimeter thick pieces with a wet knife and sprinkle coconut powder on them.

Bon Appetite!

Plateaus and the Plateau Tradition

Çukurova is one of the hottest regions in Turkey. Back in the old times, people living in the Mediterranean region found out a solution to escape the heat. When the nomadic people came and settled on the shores of the Mediterranean, they adapted their nomadic culture to the climatic features of this land. In the winters they lived on the plain and when summer came and the scorching Mediterranean sun dried up the grazing fields, turning them into yellow, they began migrating to the highlands on the Taurus Mountains. Nomads, who made a living out of sheep and goats, followed the green grass. In another sense, this was a migration to evade the diseases like malaria fanned by the heat of Çukurova.

On the plateaus, they milked their animals, they made cheese in animal skins, they spun the wool shorn from their animals and made tents from goat hair. These tents provided insulation from heat and cold and most importantly they were easy to set up and dismantle. These tents made of light material were transported on the backs of camels. Some of them wove kilims, traditional pileless carpets both for themselves and for selling at marketplaces.

Before the weather turned into winter and cold winds start to blow on top of the Taurus Mountains, they returned down to the plain.

This traditional lifestyle is still continuing in our day, adapted to contemporary conditions. There is also a modern aspect to this plateau tradition. City folk are building houses and villas on the plateaus, accessible by wide asphalt roads. Those who have to work in the city, jump into their cars after work and reach their home in half an hour. The family and the children are spending whole summer days there anyway.

Plateaus close to the urban areas are now populated by city people, instead of nomadic yoruks.

In some places Taurus Mountains rise quite steeply. One of the most famous plateaus on the Taurus Mountains is called Gözne and it is only 34 kilometers from the city center. But it is 1,100 meters above the sea level. Çamlıyayla, on the other hand, is 90 kilometers from the city and it is at an altitude of 1,430 meters. This was a small plateau called Namrun in the old days. Now it has the looks of a fully developed town. On a hill nearby, it even has the ruins of an antique castle.

There are innumerable such plateaus in the region. It can even be said that each village has its own plateau.

Plateau Tours

Tourists vacationing in Mersin can have daily expeditions to the plateaus. These tours offer them visiting different places and observing a different culture as well as taking a day off the summer heat to cool themselves off breathing the fresh air of the plateaus. A snack on these plateaus consists of a special pastry called gözleme washed down by ayran (kind of buttermilk)

The Climate

Mersin has a long coastline in eastern Mediterranean. The city leans on the Taurus Mountains in the back. Between the mountains and the sea there are plains that are quite narrow most of the time but widening up in some places. These plains are the most fertile agricultural lands in Turkey. Çukurova, where the city center is located is a wide and big expanse of flatland. In some places the mountains hit the shore perpendicularly creating steep cliffs leaving inaccessible strips on the shore. These are the spots that provide shelter for sea creatures under threat of extinction like the Mediterranean seals and other species. On these shores they come and feed and reproduce.
Mersin has a typical Mediterranean climate. As the landscape rises rather steeply from the seashore towards the Taurus Mountains, the climate changes abruptly. While the peaks of the Taurus Mountains are capped in white snow, you can swim in the warm waters of the Mediterranean below.
There is sunshine on an average of 300 days of the year. The number of rainy days do not exceed 70 in a year. Even when it rains, it does not continue for the whole day. During the summer tourism season that opens at the beginning of May and continues until the end of October, that is within a six-month period, the number of rainy days do not exceed 16 out of a total of 183. During the high season, that is 122 days in June, July, August and September, the average of rainy days is only 6.
From the beginning of May until the end of October the seawater has a temperature suitable for swimming without shivering! Again during this period, the beaches are fit for sunbathing. The seawater temperature averages 22.7ºC in May and 24.8ºC in October. People who don’t mind the cold open their swimming season in April and continue taking a dip in the sea until the end of November. In fact, this is no great feat in Mersin. The temperature of the seawater rises up to 20ºC in mid-April and remains above the same temperature until mid-November.
The Mediterranean sun shining permanently is ready to warm wet bodies coming out of water anyway.

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